As far as baseball books go, Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” isn’t exactly an obvious candidate for Hollywood’s adaptation machine. It’s filled with geeky tales about the importance of obscure stats like “wins above replacement,” the founding of fantasy sports and the evolution of a guy named Bill James from factory worker to baseball deity.
Yet at the center of the story is the quest of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane to turn his small-market, cash-poor ballclub into a perennial champion. And it’s that story that forms the heart of Brad Pitt’s “Moneyball,” an underdog sports narrative quite at home among its Hollywood antecedents.
It almost didn’t happen. But like the 2002 A’s, “Moneyball” beat the odds and landed in theaters on Friday (September 23). Here, in cheat-sheet form, is the story of how it all came to pass.
The adaptation came together in late 2008, with Pitt taking on the Beane role, Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Gangs of New York”) signing on to pen the script and “Devil Wears Prada” helmer David Frankel attached to direct. Steven Soderbergh, though, soon stepped into the director’s chair (or, at least, he planned to; there’d be more roster shakeups in “Moneyball” land before cameras rolled).
“My clearly stated goal is to set a new standard for realism in that [sports] world,” Soderbergh told MTV News in the spring of ’09. “I hope it sets a new standard. Hopefully, anybody who makes a sports movie from now on is going to have to grapple with this.”
Struggling in the Big Leagues
Production was slated to begin that summer, but Sony, concerned about the commercial viability of Soderbergh’s take, called for a directorial pinch hitter only days before the cinematic first pitch was to be thrown. Pitt remained hopeful.
“My gut says yes,” Pitt told MTV News in August when asked whether “Moneyball” could see a ninth-inning rally. “[W]e’re still trying to re-mount it. I hope we get to do it soon.”
It took a while, but Pitt’s prediction proved correct. “Capote” director Bennett Miller boarded the project that December, reportedly beating out “(500) Days of Summer” helmer Marc Webb for the gig. Aaron Sorkin rewrote the script and Jonah Hill signed on to play Beane’s assistant (a role loosely based on Paul DePodesta, now a player-development exec with the New York Mets). Hill was an unexpected pick for the dramatic role, but the actor laughed with us last year that he wouldn’t ruin the film.
“I earned the part,” he said. “Every guy who is in their twenties and making movies was after that part, and it was a very tough thing. I’m really proud to have earned it, you know?”
Shooting began in the summer of ’10. It’d be a full year before the first trailer for the film hit the Web. Gone was a great deal of the baseball nerdery, as well as Soderbergh’s initial plan to present Bill James in the form of an animated narrator. Instead, Miller delivered a straightforward sports movie: Adversity! Triumph against the odds! More adversity!
“These are guys that are working in an unfair game,” Pitt explained to us recently. “They are a team with no money trying to fight — it’s David vs. Goliath. How are they going to be competitive? How are they going to stand a chance? They can’t fight the other guys’ fight; they’re going to lose every time. These guys had to rethink it and rethink what they were doing.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Moneyball.”
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